Kevin Spacey brings a Dutchwoman to London

27th April 2004, Comments 0 comments

Dutch playwright Maria Goos' play Cloaca has been chosen by Kevin Spacey as the opening production for his first season as artistic director of London's famous Old Vic Theatre. Quite a success for a woman who says she never really learnt English.

Maria Goos is making a name for herself in London

Maria Goos knows how to make an entrance. A tall red-head dressed in fuchsia pink top and lime green trousers, the 48-year-old Dutch playwright moves with a self-confidence that makes it clear she's ready for the international stage.

And on 22 April London's venerable Old Vic Theatre did indeed announce that her play Cloaca is to open the theatre's first season under the artistic direction of American actor Kevin Spacey. The cast will include Hugh Bonneville, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Neil Pearson and Stephen Tompkinson.

It will be the first time Goos' work has been seen in Britain. Quite a coup for a woman whose biggest dread is speaking English.

"I left school at 15 and never really learnt English formally…because language is what my work is based on, I'm nervous of not being able to express myself properly."

She confesses that this was one of the reasons she was not present at the press conference in London where the new season's programme was announced.

"But of course I'm really proud and excited."

Neither does she intend to go to weekly rehearsals: "I was surprised that they asked me to, apparently it's normal in Britain but unheard of here. I will go and watch a couple of times but they have to do it their own way." 

She is, however, confident that Kevin Spacey and producer David Liddiment (creative director of Britain's leading independent producer All3Media) will respect the integrity of her original work in the English production, saying she bonded with both men "immediately".

Bonding and the complexities of human relationships is a recurring theme in Goos' work.

The only things she has insisted on for the British production of her play are that the whole story is used (and not just fragments) and that the title is not changed. Cloaca is Latin for sewer and is also the hole from which reptiles and birds excrete and reproduce.

The play is both comic and tragic – something of a trademark in her plays.

"Kevin and David see it purely as a comedy but I can never write pure comedy," she says.

"I tried once but gave up after four pages… I think they chose it because of its contemporary feel and it's sharp and funny with a good dialogue." 
Cloaca is the story of a friendship between four middle-aged men: a ruthlessly ambitious and paranoid politician, a theatre director-cum-serial womaniser, a timid gay civil servant with a penchant for 'acquiring' expensive art, and a high-flying lawyer who has succumbed to cocaine addiction (played in the Dutch version by her actor husband Peter Blok - they have two daughters).

Kevin Spacey is artistic director at London's Old Vic Theatre

"It's about the betrayal of friendship and the arrogance of modern day life in which we want the warmth and security of deep relationships without making any effort to sustain them," says Goos.

"I've noticed that while men have a lot of fun with each other, they can't cope when it comes to real emotions. In a way it's a typically English theme, the fear of letting your emotions show, but it's also very universal." 

The appeal of Cloaca is that all four of the main characters are horrible in their own way but there is no real bad guy. "They try their best but they fail," says Goos.

It explores how men compromise their emotional lives in the constant quest for money, power, and reputation.

"When I first read Cloaca, I knew that Maria was a special talent, a writer at the top of her game," says Liddiment

"The play has universal appeal because of the honesty of her writing and the brilliant way that the characters are delineated and interact (or don't) with each other. It is a serious work which is also hilariously funny."

Goos is a well-established scenario writer in the Netherlands and has won numerous prizes for her TV series, plays and films (Cloaca was also made into a movie) as well as receiving a knighthood in 2000.

Cloaca was originally written in 2002 for a Dutch theatre company and was the hit of the season in the Netherlands, as was her play Family the previous year. Both plays were adapted into successful films. Cloaca (which has also been translated into Spanish, Italian and German) will open in London on 16 September.

She has a practical approach to writing which she insists is a trade rather than an art: "All that whining about inspiration. It's just a job. I write from nine to three with an hour break to take the dog out. If you haven't finished a script within three months there must be something structurally wrong and you'd be better giving it up."   

Goos studied drama in Maastricht and originally wanted to be a director:  "But I could never find any good original plays to direct so I started writing scripts together with the actors on a sort of improvisational basis…"

Her latest project is the feature film Leef! (Live!), which is composed of separate fragments which eventually unfold into a single story. It is her first feature film (although her TV films have also been screened in cinemas) and will be made this autumn.
Cloaca (which has also been translated into Spanish, Italian and German) will open in London on 28 September, the first of four productions.

It may have been Goos' ability to make an entrance that got her into theatre school in the first place.

"I come from a very working class family and my parents were convinced I didn't stand a chance of getting into drama school so my mother didn't bother waking me up for the audition – I rushed into the audition hall an hour and a half late," says Goos.

"The director said: the idea here is indeed to get noticed, but preferably for your talents…"

The fact that her name can be added to names such as Shakespeare, Chekhov, Shaw and Ibsen – just some of the playwrights whose works have been performed at The Old Vic – is surely proof enough that she has that talent.

April 2004

[Copyright Expatica 2004]

Subject: Dutch expat, drama

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